Michigan basketball is heading into March Madness as one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten and are looking to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament after a strong finish to the regular season.
Maize n Brew caught up with head coach John Beilein over the weekend to discuss his team and a sportsmanship campaign that he is going to be a part of this month with Dove Men+Care.
What sticks out is how they have bounced back from tough losses, especially one like late last week at Northwestern.
"We are...like we have for the last month...we lost a tough one (at Northwestern) and it's that time of the year where you just can't think about that," Beilein said. "How are we going to be a better team today? So that (when the time comes) we are going to be the best that we can be."
This group has had its share of ups and downs, but Beilein says that is characteristic of the grind that is the college basketball season. Teams can either move forward or fold under the pressure, which is something that his team has not done down the stretch.
"Every team is pretty much the same with this at this time in that they have had...you look at a season where theres a team out of this 350 some odd teams that has had ups and downs this year," Beilein said. "You've just got to be resilient with it and know that in basketball, you may be playing 36 or 48 hours after a tough loss.
"You have no other choice or you won't be able to survive."
One of the major reasons for Michigan's success in the last month or so has come from the development of senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr., who has emerged as one of the best players in the conference and a legitimate contender for conference player of the year.
"He's done a great job of being a great sportsman through this whole thing," Beilein said. "He really embraces every game, plays at a high level and he does it the right way. As a student and is a heck of a competitor, so he kind of represents what we want every college player to represent."
Michigan is far from perfect as it heads into the Big Ten Tournament and presumably the NCAA Tournament. Beilein knows what is going to make or break his team if they are going to make a run and perhaps even pull off an upset or two along the way.
"We started out this year having a lot of issues with defense," he said. "We were not, at least the points people were scoring against us was not high, we were not getting enough stops when we needed it. We just needed four or five more stops each game.
"I think we've gotten better, but, I know it's March, but we've got to continue to grow defensively or we will not be able to play very long in March."
As postseason play cranks into high gear, Dove Men+Care will be releasing the "Real Strength Manifesto," which is a campaign aimed at sportsmanship and celebrates fans' positive impact that their energy can have on the game. Beilein is one of many supporters of the campaign, along with names like Alonzo Mourning, Danny Manning, J.J. Reddick and many more.
"It it something where Dove Men+Care have done a great job partnering with (the National Association of Basketball Coaches) and the NABC continues to grow in its purpose in how it can affect more and more people than just being an organization for coaches," Beilein said. "This is another way we can do this and get this sportsmanship manifesto out so that all of us can celebrate this incredible time of the year."
Michigan fans' first shot at celebrating the fun that comes with March starts Thursday at noon when they take on Illinois in the second round of Big Ten Tournament action from the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.